Tag Archives: Food in Mexico

Playa del Carmen

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Aaaaah, Playa!! Was there ever such a beautiful place? The year before I retired, Marv and I spent a week at an all-inclusive resort just north of the city of Playa del Carmen called, the Ocean Maya Royale. As usual, we went during the “low” (“off” to gringos) season in order to get a bargain. And, what a bargain we got!

Playa is a fishing village that is now the heart of myriad ocean resorts. The trip to Cancun takes you through less and less natural landscape each year as the development spreads along the coast. With Cancun to the north 40 Km (25 miles) and Tulum to the south about the same, Playa is ensconced along the Riviera Maya along with its suburbs Puerto Moreles, Puerto Aventuras and Akumal. The whole coastline offers the most beautiful white sand beaches and best snorkeling and diving in the western hemisphere.

That stretch of coastline is also home to several of the amazing Mexican ecological parks, including Xcaret, Xel-ha and Xplor. Every park is unique and worth a day or two spent in them. You can swim, float or paddle your way through an underground river, fly over the jungle on zip lines, snorkel, skin dive, jump from a cliff into a lagoon, walk the trepachanga, swim with dolphins and much more.

Our package was “all inclusive” and the resort sported five (now four – the Italian one burned down and wasn’t replaced) restaurants inside its walls. We were there five nights and ate at a different restaurant every night. Our last night we ate at the Yookoso, a Japanese restaurant that makes wonderful sushi!! Every morning, we ate at La Hacienda’s breakfast bar, which served every kind of food – breakfast and otherwise. At one kiosk, you could get an omelet made to your specifications, but they had meat dishes, pasta, vegetables, salads, fruits, cereal, and desserts, too. You could eat dinner for breakfast, if that’s what you wanted.

As I mentioned, Playa has become very “developed” over the past 15 years, so if you’re looking for something slightly more native, head down the highway to Akumal, or better yet, Tulum. Tulum has not been as developed most likely because it’s an hour and a half drive from the Cancun airport. But, therein lies its charm. It still has a mercado, or central market, where you can buy food fresh from the garden, ocean or barnyard, along with any kind of merchandise you could want. A mercado is kind of like a modern department store spread out over several square blocks that sells fresh food and handmade clothing, instead of the processed kind. It is my favorite thing about Mexico. Playa’s mercado is long gone, replaced by Sears and Walmart stores.

Playa is, in essence, a beautiful, commercialized stretch of beach on the Riviera Maya – like Cancun, a wonderful place to visit. But, if you want to live in the area, I suggest you head a little further south – the beaches are still pristine and development hasn’t made it so far down the coast yet.

Xel-Ha – The Magical Lagoon!

So, the hillbilly and I spent two days in the past two weeks doing the “parque” thing. My youngest son, Kenny, and his girlfriend, Julie, were here for 18 days through Christmas, New Year’s and beyond. It just seemed appropriate that we do something fun and touristy.

Kenny &  Julie in their snorkeling get-up at Xel-ha.

Kenny & Julie in their snorkeling get-up at Xel-ha.

First up was Xel-ha. Its activities center on a lagoon fed by an underground river that eventually opens out into the Caribbean. It is, of course, a beautiful setting, and the lagoon has a couple of small lava rock islands which lend themselves beautifully to great snorkeling. There are platforms all around the lagoon that provide easy entre to the water. Each platform has racks of life jackets and plenty of room to don your snorkel equipment (which is provided as part of the fee). Then, you simply go down the steps and splash into the realm of los pescados.

Having two young people with us meant that the day was an adventure. The kids and I jumped Leap of Courage Xel-ha IIoff the “The Stone of Courage” into the lagoon.  It’s purported to be five meters high (about 16 feet), but on the way down, I know I counted a good 20 feet. My son remarked to me, “Good jump, Mom. I don’t know any other 67 year old women who would do it.” My first thought was, “It never occurred to me not to do it,” followed immediately by, “OMG, I’m suffering from serious age denial!!”

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Xplor the Underworld!

When I ordered the tickets for our day trip to Xel-ha, I ordered a package deal for the hillbilly and me that included a day at Xplor. You have to use the second ticket within six days, so the week after seeing Kenny and Julie off at Cancun, we headed for the challenges of Xplor on our own!

When you check-in, you are issued a locker key and a helmet that you must wear the whole time you’re in the park. I’m surprised, shocked really, that this ensemble-topper hasn’t caught on in the larger human community – it is incredibly flattering (see picture below), and adds a touch of haute couture to the most mundane outfit. The helmet also has a number on it that will be used to pull up your pictures when you’re done.

WXplor - The Beginning 5e did the zip lines last. There should be another name for the zip lines at Xplor because the zip line at Xel-ha was a ride on a line, in a sling, into the lagoon. At Xplor, you climb up, up, up, up and up, and eventually get to a platform from which you “zip” over the jungle.  No problem, I told myself, I can go with gravity and a seat under my butt forever.

Yeah, right! I found that the sling was now a thing of the past. It’s all well and good to put someone into a sling if they’re zipping over water, looking at a soft landing in a lagoon, as you are at Xel-ha. But, when sending them over the jungle, those people are strapped into a contraption that basically acts as a tourniquet at the top of both legs and the waist. If you lose your hold while zipping, no problem –you’re in a death grip that restricts all circulation below the waist. However, if your rescue isn’t timely, you may have to have both legs amputated.

At the end of each “zip” segment, there is another climb, sometimes up stairs and, occasionally, up a (very steep, in retrospect) ramp to the next zip segment.

There is a seldom discussed benefit from having a spouse who has smoked since he was 15 years old – Marv fell farther and farther behind me in the climb to each new zip tower, which meant I had to wait for him for longer and longer periods. By the time we got to the 10th leg, I was easily getting a six-seven minute breather each time.

Xplor Marv's Happy FaceBefore the zip line runs, we swam the underground river.  Have you ever noticed that if the water is just a few degrees cooler than the ambient air temperature how some people just go to pieces.

Once we got past all the squealing and shrieking that accompanied the initial plunge into the river, I noticed that most of the folks, in front of and behind us, were not “swimming” but standing up and walking, which I kind of thought was cheating. But, Marv is 6’3”, and the aforementioned smoking does not allow for a lot of powerful swimming strokes, so he walked, too. What the hell? I grabbed the back of his life jacket and let him float me along behind. After all, it was a good, non-strenuous way to see the cave and get pictures.

After our “swim,” we paddled a raft in yet another part of the underground river system, using these little paddles (about 12″ x 9″) that strapped to your hands.  Me in front, the hillbilly in the rear.  It took me a few minutes to catch on to the fact that I was, not only doing all the steering, but all the paddling, too. However, it took less than 10 seconds to correct that little oversight.Xplor UW Raft

At one point during our raft ride, the cord that kept my camera attached to my wrist gave up the ghost and my camera went into the drink. The couple immediately behind us very kindly stopped to help us look. The nearest “monitor” paddled over to see what the problem was (and I noted somewhat bitterly, did so with a real paddle, not one of the hand-thingees). Miracle of miracles, the lovely man found my camera, just as I was mentally writing it off. For the record: I firmly believe that if you really want to find something, give up on it and it will show up.

During your excursions through the Xplor cave systems, there are cameras set up throughout that are set off by motion detectors. As soon as they “detect” you, the cameras snap your picture. This process creates a series of pictures during your escapade in the caves that you can buy at the end for $75 USD a package. I really don’t like looking at myself anymore, and I definitely don’t want to pay $75 to do it, so I told the park rep to enjoy them.  Though the thought of being on camera in my helmet did give me a moment’s pause before I issued the denial.

Xplor Amphib Veh 2Xplor has multiple zip lines systems, river swims, amphibian treks and river raft trips, so if you want to do your “activity” again, you are not locked into seeing the same stalactites, nooks, crannies or jungle. They also have several trails for the amphibious vehicles. And, as with Xel-ha, the entrance fee also includes lunch (all you can eat) and drinks (non-alcoholic only).

But by this time, even the thought of just sitting in a car while trundling through the caves and jungle did not stir the hillbilly’s adrenaline. So, we trudged back up the long ascent back to the entrance, turned in our helmets and locker key, staggered into the parking lot and, more or less, fell into the car.

It was another wonderful day.  Xplor is great fun and offers a variety of fun “adventures,” both above and below the jungle canopy.  Plan on a whole day there, unless you’re like the hillbilly and I – then plan on fewer hours, depending on how much steam your factory still manufactures.  We lasted about 6 hours.